I don’t mean to pick on Joni Balter here. Most people writing about a possible Dennis Kucinich Congressional run in Washington use the same dumbass term.
Republicans would love to run against Kucinich in a suburban congressional district because he is a fringe liberal sporting a carpetbagger label.
Look, if I still lived up North, I’d probably prefer Rodger Goodman or Marko Liias. I supported Ruderman before Inslee got in the race in 1998 and would certainly be willing to look at someone else. There’s a rich field of candidates to draw from, so it’s not like we need Kucinich. Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to run from somewhere else.
And in fact the original carpetbaggers were pretty fucking awesome. After the Civil War, of course, many people from the North went South to seek out the new political climate of freedom and racial integration imposed by the Federal government. The people who went into elected office were smeared as carpetbaggers by their opponents. People like Adelbert Ames, a hero at Bull Run and Gettysburg who was appointed to the governorship of Mississippi during reconstruction before winning election to the US Senate and the governor’s office outright. While I probably wouldn’t agree with all of his policies, where it mattered the most, he was right: “he took several steps to advance the rights of freed slaves, appointing the first black office-holders in state history.”
But in the history of the Reconstruction South, the Carpetbaggers lost. After Ames won election as governor, political violence overtook the state. Appeals to the Federal government fell on deaf ears, and eventually he resigned under threat of impeachment and possible violence. And political violence won out throughout the South. The worst case was Colfax.
On April 13, 1873, violence erupted in Colfax, Louisiana. The White League, a paramilitary group intent on securing white rule in Louisiana, clashed with Louisiana’s almost all-black state militia. The resulting death toll was staggering. Only three members of the White League died. But some 100 black men were killed in the encounter. Of those, nearly half were murdered in cold blood after they had already surrendered. The incident once again showed President Ulysses S. Grant how hard it would be to guarantee the rights and the safety of blacks in the South.
Louisiana whites formed their own “shadow” government and their own army, the White League. The White League, similar to the Ku Klux Klan, intimidated and attacked Republicans and blacks all over the state. While the worst violence occurred in Colfax, other incidents were sparked in Coushatta, when the White League murdered six Republicans, and in New Orleans, when 30 were killed and 100 more wounded.
In response to these incidents and others throughout the South, President Grant ordered federal troops to restore order. But most of the relief was temporary. After Colfax, the federal government convicted only three whites for the murders. In the end, they were freed when the U.S. Supreme Court declared that they had been convicted unconstitutionally.
The plaque commemorating the incident, put up by the state of Louisiana, still says “On this site occurred the Colfax Riot in which three white men and 150 negroes were slain. This event on April 13, 1873 marked the end of carpetbag misrule in the South.”
So that’s in a nutshell my problem with using carpetbagger as an attack. While obviously Balter and other political commentators aren’t trying to evoke the political violence and racial hatred that ended reconstruction, it’s there in the word. It means something more than just an outsider.